Job Fair Savvy

A large job fair, organized by the United Way, was held in Atlanta yesterday for victims of Hurricane Katrina who had evacuated to the Atlanta/Fulton County area. From news reports, 15,000 job seekers turned out, not all of whom were hurricane victims, causing organizers to close the doors to new arrivals by lunchtime. Most stood in long lines to speak with representatives of area companies who had turned out to look for new employees, mostly for lower-paying jobs.

It’s fair to question the efficacy of job fairs, not only in this situation, but all job fairs in general. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one company reported accepting ten resumes for positions as salespeople and part-time drivers. Ten resumes for low-training work out of 15,000 people. Five to ten percent of the attendees were executives for whom no jobs at all were available at the fair. With such bad odds of getting a foot in the door, even for low paying jobs, what is the point in attending a job fair?

First of all, if you think you are going to attend, do a little research. It is necessary to review the employers who are attending a job fair before deciding if it is worth your time. If most of the employers are businesses that have high turnover and low pay, it is probably not worth your time. Most general-industry type job fairs are populated by employers that are temporary staffing organizations, distribution-based companies, commission-only sales, food service, or retail. A mid-to-upper management candidate would probably find nothing of interest at such a job fair.

With a little research, an industry-specific job fair may be located in your local area. Tech-only job fairs or financial industry job fairs, for example, might offer some good leads for early career workers or entry-level management. Middle management might be able to do a little networking at such a job fair in order to work toward a decision-maker at the higher levels. Many job fairs offer seminars are part of the agenda that cover different topics related to employment. These classes are good opportunities to network and to meet the presenters, possible very good network contacts.

If you decide to attend a job fair, do not attempt to hit every booth. All job fairs produce a list of employers who will be in attendance; attain the list and study it. Concentrate your efforts on the few that are of main interest to you. Do some research ahead of time on these companies so you are not ignorant about their mission and business operation.

Go first thing in the morning to the job fair so you can avoid the midday rush and be able to speak longer with the company representatives. Do not expect a full interview. Your goal is to make a good impression that will last – both with your in-person presentation and with your resume. The company representative might be able to devote about five minutes in speaking with you before he/she must move on to the next person. By getting there first thing in the morning, you avoid having that “next person” standing behind you so you can have more time with the representative. You also catch the representative before they are exhausted and faces start to run together. Getting there early has lots of advantages.

Gather business cards from each representative you meet and immediately send a follow up email when you get home. The advantage is that 90% of the other job seekers won’t do this and you will win the battle of being remembered in the sea of faces. It is also simply courteous to do a follow up; and attach your resume to the email, of course. In job search, the good communicator usually wins the job.

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